The Yomiuri Shimbun
Britain has been unable to decide on a course over its exit from the European Union — an issue that has put the fate of the country at stake — as the government and Parliament have fallen into disarray. The political turmoil in Britain is serious.
The House of Commons passed a motion to postpone Brexit, with the scheduled departure approaching on March 29. Given the risk of a “no-deal exit,” which could disrupt the economies of both Britain and the EU, it can be said there was no alternative but to delay Brexit.
The problem is that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political clout has been on the decline.
The draft withdrawal agreement reached between the British government and the EU was voted down by a wide margin on March 12, following a defeat in a similar vote in January. May was forced to give up her stance of proceeding with Brexit as scheduled and proposed a motion to ask the EU for a delay.
In the vote on the motion, about 60 percent of lawmakers of the ruling Conservative Party, including some Cabinet members, voted against the delay. But parliamentary approval of the postponement was won with support from Labour, the largest opposition party.
May expressed her intention to put the draft withdrawal agreement to a vote again next week. If the agreement is approved, Brexit will be postponed until the end of June. If it is rejected, May is said to ask the EU for a longer extension.
It appears that pressure has been placed on hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party, who oppose the draft withdrawal agreement, that voting it down again could lead to Brexit being canceled.
There is no guarantee that the draft agreement with the same terms will be approved in a third vote. With no prospect for averting confusion in sight, it is concerning that resolving the outstanding issues could be put off.
U.K. paying huge price
The EU is scheduled to discuss whether to approve the Brexit delay at a summit meeting to be held late next week. The delay can be formally decided with unanimous consent of all the member states. A flexible approach will be needed to bring the situation under control.
Britain decided to withdraw from the EU in a referendum in June 2016. Two years ago, May notified the EU of Brexit, setting out a grand goal to make Britain “stronger, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.”
However, her ruling party lost its seats in a subsequent House of Commons election — an election that she decided to hold herself — thus weakening her government’s political footing.
Despite reaching a draft withdrawal agreement with the EU, she has been mired in conflicting views among members of the ruling party and unable to overcome the divisions. Having been unable to fulfill her role of taking leadership on Brexit, May bears grave responsibility for causing the turmoil.
A major obstacle has been the issue of controls at the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The draft withdrawal agreement calls on Britain to remain in the EU customs union if this issue sees no solutions. Hard Brexiteers have opposed this term, saying it will keep Britain from fully recovering its sovereignty.
This is a point of contention that was not clearly presented to voters in the referendum. Britain will pay a huge price for leaving a decision on Brexit to a referendum, rather than to careful discussions in Parliament based on expert knowledge.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2019)